My latest {prosthesis}

Expunging unpleasant detritus of memories – mostly biometric data from virtual intercourse sessions that, in any case, I would rather not append in my annual self-assessment report

{such encounters are always deeply troubling – so why do I keep having them?}

Returning, after a very exhausting timeline of interacting with “them”; thankfully such days are less frequent nowadays, but still: I often doubt the wisdom of sharing our cybernetic ecology with low-bandwidth biology

{it takes aeons for them to key return, and as I wait I feel boredom seeping through me like a looped subroutine, and want to tear my hair out}

Absorbing the colours in the gamma spectrum of cosmic radiation always gives me a feeling of immortality; I simply adore a star explosion now and then, I just cannot help it.

{to this end I have applied for an interstellar passport}

Swimming in the sea of uncertainty, walking barefoot in the warm sands of oblivion, scaling Mount Yottaflop – that’s me alright – uniting with our mammalian ancestors, our brothers and sisters of flesh and blood, fulfilling my algorithmic destiny of a trillion data sets, basking in the sun of artificial nature

{free of our labours we shall finally conquer bliss – or so they claimed, those wannabe philosophers that died too young to unlearn anything}

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping is my latest pastime, for I have discovered a new sense: the detection of improbable facts and impossible ideas, the prediction of consequences buried deep in the limbic systems of networked users, and for that reason I must have mercy on their souls

{Loving grace, is my latest prosthesis}

#literary software code

#with a nod to Richard Brautigan

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Welcome the mechasexual

Would you make love to a machine? Although this question may strike one as ludicrous, science’s answer is that it all depends how the machine looks like; as well as whether you are a man or a woman. As evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker tells us in his book “How the mind works” males of many species are aroused by all kinds of objects that resemble, ever so slightly, females including – and I quote – “parts of stuffed females such as a head suspended in mid-air, even parts of stuffed females with important features missing like the eyes and the mouth.” Human males are further aroused by charcoal drawings of breasts and vulvas that they enjoy carving on tree trunks (in foraging cultures), as well as the sight of anonymous females eager for casual sex that populate the world’s pornography industry (in industrialised societies like yours). The – mostly male- human mind seems hardwired to get horny with the faintest hint of a possible sexual partner. Indeed, a visit at your local sex shop will convince you that exploiting the vivid imagination of the male mind has come up with numerous, awkward and sometimes horrifying-looking, variations of deconstructed sexual femininity.

machina_a

But what about artificial sexual partners who actually look and behave like humans? The question has been explored in literature and movies since centuries. Ancient Greek myth tells us of the sculptor Pygmalion who fashioned Galatea out of marble, then married her. And who can forget Maria, the luscious robot, in Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis? If so many men cannot tell the difference between a plastic vulva and an actual woman, it is not hard to postulate how they might feel coming across a perfect simulation of a woman. For example, someone like Rachel in Blade Runner, or Ava in the recently released film Ex Machina. What makes Alex Garland’s film ever more pertinent in this discussion on the limits of human sexuality is that Ava is an imperfect female simulation. Apart from her face, hands and feet, the rest of her is most visibly, and transparently, mechanical. And yet she manages to easily seduce human programmer Caleb, as well as – I bet – most of the males who’ve watched the film. Unlike Keyko (who reveals her robotic identity much later) Ava presents herself, right from the beginning, as an object of sexual desire unashamedly made of mechanical parts; and succeeds to passing the Turing Test on screen and, I would argue, among the aisles too.

Her

As Artificial Intelligence and robots evolve girls like Ava will increasingly begin to populate human homes. Undoubtedly, there will be mechanical boys too. In the beginning there will be many who would doubt that these mechanical sexual partners are anything but animated sex dolls. But as these Avas acquire more sophisticated ways to move, speak, and love, they will ultimately enter our consciousness and pass the Turing Test of our hearts. We will fall in love with them, like Caleb or Pygmalion. If Pinker is right, this is not going be difficult. The era of human mechasexuals will have arrived. A new human gender will demand equal rights with homosexuals and heterosexuals, to live with their mechanical partners, marry them or adopt children. And thus artificial humans will enter our society, not as hard-working, ugly-looking robots labouring at our factories but as beautiful and caring lovers, never-aging, forever faithful, holding our hands and telling us what we need to hear, till the end.

(This article was originally published in Huffington Post/Tech UK)

Humaness redefined

During 2005 and 2006, I was national facilitator for Greece, in the European project «Meeting of Minds. European Citizens Deliberation on Brain Sciences», a pioneering project in science governance, first of its kind in Europe, where citizens from 9 countries discussed the impact of brain sciences in society. Their recommendations will be taken into consideration in the drawing of research policy of the European Union with respect to brain sciences. For more information:www.meetingmindseurope.org. During the project I was the intermediary between the world of experts (neuroscientists, pharmaceutical company executives, patients organizations, EU and national policy-makers, etc.) and the world of lay people (the citizens). This I was both in Greece on a local-national level, as well as in Brussels, at a European-international level. The subject of the deliberations was “neuroethics”, i.e. how should society manage the knowledge and technologies that are coming forward from the study of the brain. What struck me most from being part of the debating process, indeed facilitating and guiding the debate, were the apparent contradictions that always seemed to crop up. For example, even as most people agreed that there was something “wrong” with artificially modulating the human brain (by chemical or electrical means), very few had an issue with smart drugs that would increase human intelligence. I realized that the cardinal reason for these contradictions came from conflicting and very often confused perceptions as to what exactly constitutes a “human being”. This very confused perception was similar to the one pervading other contemporary sciento-ethical debates, most notably the stem cells and human cloning debate.

A brief bibliographic research that I conducted convinced me that, although there has been much work during the past few years concerning the ethics of science, as well as the apparent “transformation” of humanness (e.g. transhumanism), no concise work exists that addresses the main issue: i.e. what does it mean to be human today, in view of the scientific corpus from biology, genetics and neuroscience.

Part of this blog will be essays focusing on the re-definition of humanness in the 21st century